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Liberty, equality, conspiracy!
How the boom in conspiracy theories is reminiscent of the French Revolution – and what to take from it
Robert Huttinger

Conspiracy theories have been booming not just since Corona, but roughly since the “terrorist crisis” from 9/11. This can be seen on the Internet, where the scorn and malice of the “enlightened” are increasingly turning into fantasies of punishment . But the usual expertise does not help either. It is psychologized by “traumatized people” who find feelings of security and self-improvement in pseudo-explanations of a confusing world. One dissects the connectivity of these narratives to inhuman ideas and the structure of these narrative systems, which seem so closed in themselves, precisely because they have a thousand sources. None of this is wrong either.

The helplessness of these “analyzes” gets to the point when the decisive question about the social conditions behind this boom is answered with platitudes: “Internet”, “complexity”, even “anti-modern reflex”. Only the parallelization with National Socialism is even less productive: Certainly it was based on an epic conspiracy theory, but in view of it, any desire to understand disappears. And the phenomenon is not German. So you have to dig somewhere else, much deeper – and you come across the historical event, of all things, whose “legacy” one likes to hold against the conspiracists: the French Revolution.

How come? Didn’t noble ideas of democracy and reason break their ground in 1789? Well, in concrete terms, the power of the revolution was by no means based only on “enlightenment”, but also on a classic conspiracy theory. Parallel to the events in Paris, a tsunami of rumors about gangs of robbers and murderers swept through the country, which were supposedly sent by the nobility. The province armed itself against the threat. Attacks on feudal castles were motivated by such fake news. Without the “grande peur”, the great fear, the overturn in the area might have failed.

There is a parallel between this wave of panic and the boom of today’s conspiracy theories on three levels:

  • First of all, there was a new medium in printed gazettes and pamphlets that had not yet been handled competently – today it is social media.
  • Second, the bad harvest of 1788 and the cattle epidemics of 1789 formed a decisive crisis event. Not only Covid reminds us of this today, but also the undigested financial crisis: The petty bourgeoisie is still suffering from being driven out by zero interest rates.
  • Third, before 1789, the proverbial decadence of the nobility had undermined traditional ideas of God-given order. Does this correspond to a present that, with its expertocratic tendencies and social exclusions, gives many the feeling that they have no influence on the course of events?

Admittedly, the analogy runs high. In Germany as early as 2017, more than half in the east and 45 percent in the west no longer believed in public broadcasting or newspapers. To be on the safe side, so to speak, we should get used to the thought that this could indicate an epoch-making break. Although, there is a serious difference to 1789: Unlike the National Assembly at that time – which dealt with rural panic – there is, for now, no united force in sight that would be willing or able to progressively shape the “great fear” of our day.

One thing is certain, however: It is soley the political idiot’s approach to be barking in the front row when it comes to conspiracy shaming. In the pandemic, this pose has often enough turned out to be a vague search for stability and security – and it only shows ignorance and helplessness towards the processes of social disintegration that are behind that conspiracy boom.


(Freely translated from an original article at

Corona government history politics